[Marxism] Jonathan Rosenbaum
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Sun Feb 1 17:05:53 MST 2004
Jonathan Rosenbaum. Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What
Films We Can See. London: Wallflower Press, 2002. 192 pp. Notes, index.
£12.99 (paper), ISBN 1-903364-60-4.
Reviewed by Fred Davies, Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sussex.
Published by H-USA (December, 2003)
Movie Wars was originally published in America by A Cappella Publishing in
November 2000 and has been reissued in Britain. The reception on this side
of the Atlantic will probably be sympathetic, as we also suffer--if not
more so--from the disease of American blockbusters that invade our shores
and colonize our screens. In 1997, the then-chairman of PolyGram Filmed
Entertainment, Stewart Till, was appointed by the new Labour government to
chair a committee on the British film industry. The result was a report, "A
Bigger Picture." It pinpointed distribution as the Achilles' heel of the
British film industry: many British films (if indeed most of them) never
even got a release. British multiplexes are in the main owned by American
studios or closely linked to their distributors. Britain's key player in
the field, Film Four, has collapsed. In France, Canal Plus suffered a
similar fate. PolyGram, the one independent European distributor (and
financier)--responsible for backing such British films as Trainspotting and
Four Weddings and a Funeral--has also disappeared, liquidated by an
American studio. This is the territory covered by Jonathan Rosenbaum's book.
The book's title is quite misleading, as it would indicate a serious
engagement with the political economy of Hollywood, at least on the lines
of "A Bigger Picture." Instead, it is a funny and informative but supremely
arrogant and self-serving meander through Rosenbaum's memoirs. It "loses
the plot" soon after the first few chapters and rambles through what seems
to be a reheating of old essays rather poorly stitched together. Clearly
one would expect to meet concepts like "oligopoly," "synergy," "Marxism,"
or "capitalism," but maybe these have been erased for the dumbed-down
reader, just what Rosenbaum accuses his targets--his colleagues and fellow
writers on film, or at least their editors--of doing. He coins the cute
little phrase "media industry complex," which makes good copy, but with not
a reference to C. Wright Mills and with no further expansion into a
discussion of the challenge of the media giants--Murdoch, Berlusconi,
Lucas, Spielberg, Eisner--and their many-tentacled trans-national
corporations in our age. Instead, he launches into a personal ad hominen
bitch-fest and a celebration of his own writings. So this is not an
intellectually interesting book, but rather a good read from an insider
dishing the dirt and pedantically trashing his colleagues. His personal
venom is worse than his intellectual bite. He is in a great tradition of
American polemicists. Indeed a long time ago de Tocqueville wrote a whole
chapter on "Why American Writers and Speakers are Often Bombastic."
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